Resources for English Teachers

 

Jini Rae Sparkman teaches English at Holderness School in Plymouth, NH. 

Strategies for Teaching English

Creating a community of learners

  • Expectations and Curriculum: There are many educational theories about the idea of the classroom as a community model and many ways to develop such communities. "Power in the Classroom" from Jonathan Erwin's book, The Classroom of Choice, suggests some ways to develop a classroom community. The two I have found most useful are below:

    • Student Generated Expectations: Allow students to develop one set of classroom expectations for everyone (students and teachers) or a “classroom constitution.”

    • Student Generated Curriculum: Focus the class on studying what students most want to know and understand.

  • Classroom Structure: Our classrooms are artifacts, lessons in themselves. Students will learn as much from the environments in which they study as they will from their teachers. Consider what you want your classroom to look like and the implicit messages you want your students to receive when they walk in. Are there a variety of genders, ethnicities, religions, and races visible? Is your classroom explicitly inclusive? Will your students feel like they belong no matter their background, heritage or abilities? Try to be intentional and cognizant of different learning abilities. Even consider the message sent by the arrangement of desks. 

 

The Critical Question

  • Start with a question.

    • For me, it has always made sense to start a class with a question based around a theme. Almost every student that I have ever encountered in the classroom believes that reading is about a search for answers. They think that they are trying to figure out some enlightened question that only the teacher holds the key to. That saddens me, and it creates a distance between the students rather than building an inclusive classroom community. Thus, I like to challenge that archaic classroom structure by structuring the entire class around a question and theme. There are many other ways of approaching a course, but I have found that this strategy tends to create a classroom community around exploration. It challenges students to think critically and forces them to learn to ask questions--tough questions that don’t have a singular predetermined answer. And it helps me scaffold their learning, emphasizing both reading and writing as being cyclical rather than a linear journey with a distinct destination. Win. Win.

  • Why the critical question?

    • It is possible to passively read a text. It is also possible to write an essay using a formulaic structure. However, there is a significant difference between passive participation and active engagement. I believe in modeling how critical thought is developed in the classroom. Why? Why is this idea of critical thought so very important (in my eyes) to the teaching of English? I believe that learning to ask, think, and question using inquiry lead us to develop higher level thinking and reading, without which, we will never be able to develop the ability to communicate beyond basic skill mastery. No matter how well we can utilize the comma, semicolon, or fragment, if we are not able to critically consider and challenge ourselves to think in new and profound ways about any idea or topic, our sentences will be perfect, but our ideas will be lacking. Modeling critical thought and the ways of inquiry even in the structure of the classroom, allows our students to experience the power of a question. Thus, opening their minds to new possibilities and the ability to think critically not only about the writing of others, but about their own work as well.

  • But what about skills, grammar, and vocabulary?

    • Skills can very easily be integrated into any lesson. My grammar and vocabulary lessons come directly from whatever text(s) we are reading at the time, and students are then asked to used those skills/items in their own writing. It creates connections in their brain that result in long term memory formation.

  • Just one question and theme?

    • The question is just a starting place. Give yourself the freedom to explore with your students. Let them guide the course. One of the most influential assignments that I ever completed came at the end of an entire course on one topic. We were asked to take all the literature we had read and explored and create an entirely new class based around a different theme. Mind blowing! (I have used this assignment in my own classes with excellent success.)

  • Examples of Critical Question Curricula

 

Videos
Resources

Organizations

National Writing Project

 

Mission:

The National Writing Project believes that teachers are the greatest resource that education has for sustained research, development and exploration.

 

Resources:

The NWP is immensely diverse in what it offers educators. Not only does it offer resources related to the teaching of writing and reading, but it is focused on teachers as learners and researchers in their own classrooms. thus, most of what is written and published on the website is written by fellow teachers, making it an invaluable source of engaging information. 

 

Professional Development:

The NWP also offers a multitude of professional development opportunities that allow teachers to explore who they are as readers and writers while also reflecting upon their own teaching practice and that of their peers. I can't recommend this highly enough.

National Council of Teachers of English

 

This is a great organization to join early in your career.  They sponsor conferences for English teachers and maintain a website that is filled with resources to support English/Language Arts teachers at all levels in their work.

Teaching Tolerance

 

A place for educators who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support.

Association of Writers and Writing Programs

 

AWP is a valuable resource not only for ideas but also for professional development. Their annual conference is one of the best to attend.

Books

Classroom Preparation:

 

Pedagogy and Theory:

 

Websites

General:

  • read write think is a great resource for lesson plans and dialogue about the English classroom. Lesson plans are written and reviewed by educators. The organization is a subsidiary of NCTE.

  • Web English Teacher

  • Edutopia is an organization supported by the George Lucas Foundation. It provides ideas for student driven, experiential and project-based learning. Additionally, their partner page, Lucas Educational Research, funds research by educators.

 

Shakespeare:

 

Poetry:

  • Poetry Out Loud is the national competition for poetry recitation. Thus, its website has great resources that help introduce students to poetry. However, the number of poems available is limited.

  • poets.org and Poem in Your Pocket Day were both founded by the Academy of American Poets. They have a variety of resources for teaching poetry.

 

Interactive Websites:

  • Storify allows students to pull from websites and social media sites to create their own story. I have integrated it with Twitter discussions in the classroom with success.

  • Storyboard That allows teachers and students to create storyboards.

  • Flocabulary is a website that uses hip-hop and rap lyrics to explore a number of topics in a variety of disciplines, grades K - 12.

  • Thug Notes is a web series that makes videos summarizing and analyzing classic literature using colloquial language. Be advised that the language is not appropriate for all ages. Preview all videos befor sharing.

 

Citation:

 

Grammar and Vocabulary:

 

Diversity & Inclusivity Resources for English Teachers